Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A thousand little dishes: friend or foe?

I got back from a weekend conference in San Francisco this past Sunday night.  I kept thinking about the words of a colleague as I was getting ready to leave New York in reference to one of my planned stops that weekend:  "For crying out loud, please have the common sense not to blog about it..."

To set the context of my tale, my wife kindly joined me for the conference.  She was a good sport to come, so I sought to reward her with a bucket list event on Saturday night.  We went to a "little" restaurant in Napa Valley called the French Laundry.  For those not familiar with it, the French Laundry is an over-the-top Michelin 3-star restaurant that has been blowing the hair of foodies back for many years.  It was started and is still run by one of the most creative chefs on Earth, Thomas Keller, who was reportedly the inspiration for the Pixar film Ratatouille.
The French Laundry.  It seems harmless enough from the outside...

For people who love good food, this place is a shrine.  They only seat 16 tables a night, and every dinner is a three hour culinary marathon.  It is horribly expensive, and almost impossible to get a reservation under two months in advance.  In fact, the general manager shared with us that there was a 900 person waiting list for that Saturday night (!).

So why did my colleague urge me to keep this little adventure to myself?  Either because she thought that I would sound like a complete spendthrift, blowhard-showoff (fair point) or that it would be a strange thing to share in a blog about weight loss.  Perhaps one could compare a weight-concerned person going to the French Laundry to a heroin addict touring poppy fields.  I have a very different view.

First off, the experience was amazing and surreal.  Nine perfect courses with incredible wines paired accordingly.  Every single bite was spectacular and amazing.  By the end of the three hours I was stuffed, yet I literally soldiered through the last petit four served.  It all seemed like fairly delinquent behavior for a member (let alone President) of Weight Watchers.  But was it?

The thing about a place like the French Laundry is that it truly is a bucket list experience.  The restaurant shared an interesting data point with me:  off all the people who go, only 3% come back more than once.  It's not because it isn't spectacular, but it's because it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  This isn't the kind of dining experience that I would call vaguely normal.  I'm not at risk of becoming a multiple-time per week (let alone lifetime) visitor given the minor and inconvenient fact that it would bankrupt me.  Beyond that, I think some of the magic would be lost in the process.

The second aspect about a place like this is that the food just isn't normal.  I tried cooking a full three course meal from a restaurant like this once (from Rick Bayless's original cookbook from Topolobompo in Chicago).  It took me 1.5 days to prepare, and it was about 45% of the quality that the chef would have served, and I had a wicked backache for my trouble.  Every single little dish that I had last Saturday night was a painstakingly prepared piece of cooking perfection.  It was as much artistry as eating.  Again, it was an experience, not a regular occurrence.

A third notable point about the meal last night was that each dish consisted of about 4-5 bites.  It was enough to savor and taste before the point of sensory dullness.  In my mind this is the way food is meant to be enjoyed.  Whether nine such dishes is really appropriate is a subject for a different debate.

For me, being healthy and on Weight Watchers is not about becoming a monk who swears off the celebration of food.  It's about living an existence that largely consists of healthy choices and real food.  To be clear, I did not save my Weekly POINTS Allowance for the occasion.  I just rolled with it.  I'm glad I did, and I'd do it again.   Maybe in 10 years.

All of this has spurred me to publish my field guide to restaurant decadence:

  • Fast food:  I rarely eat fast food.  When I do, I always go for the best option, usually salad with a low fat dressing.  I had enough Big Macs in my youth to last for my entire life.  
  • Breakfast and lunch joints:  I stay on the straight and narrow here.  I rarely blow out my POINTS on breakfast, and I don't like to do it for lunch either.  Again, I'm pretty disciplined if I see it as a regular meal stop.
  • Nice restaurants (dinner):  I will loosen up a little bit here, but I will still seek the least-bad option.  I might have dessert, but it is often just a few bites of a shared portion.  Seafood is usually my go-to option in these places.  
  • Bucket list restaurants (like last weekend):  No holds barred.  I have whatever and as much as I can handle.  I define a bucket list restaurant as a place I go to once every three to four years.  

I like that I follow a program that affords me flexibility to live my life and occasionally enjoy once-in-a-blue-moon crazy restaurants.  In my book, losing my mind once a year is not being off program.  We Weight Watchers people love food, which is precisely why we love Weight Watchers.

Postscript:  I weighed-in on Tuesday, and I was up 3 pounds.  If only there was some new program coming out that could help me wipe that slate clean... 

What constitutes a lose-you-mind-and-forget-your-WPA worthy dining event for you?

Cheers,

dk

44 comments:

  1. I love this post! I was in Yountville this weekend, too, and I indulged in a lovely meal at Hurley's. I can't agree more that we Weight Watchers followers love food, and I appreciate that the program allows the flexibility to treat ourselves on occasion.

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  2. We wouldn't be here if we didn't love food. That's what makes WW a realistic lifestyle program...that we can still eat, ENJOY and be real and yet maintain a healthy lifestyle. This is why I have chosen to be a leader for WW (11 years and counting). Great post!

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  3. I teach French, so I try and travel as often as I can to keep up my cultural knowledge for my students (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!). So whenever I go to France, I enjoy the full Parisian dining experience and have one very nice, long, slow meal that I don't worry too much about - usually duck, occasionally dessert, and always wine. I mean, come on, it's Paris!

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  4. I didn't realize until I read this that it's pretty much the way I categorize my life "must have" as compared to "can have any time" foods (and yes, it does seem that my life is constantly about food :) ). You're right. . . Weight Watchers allows its members to be exactly what we are: humans with bucket list!
    Thank you!

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  5. I love this post! People think people on WW can't enjoy food and life and we really do just in smaller portions. Thats what I love about the program is having flexibility. I am having problems right now losing after losing 140 lbs I wonder if WW will come out with something new for me haha im being sarcastic I can't wait for the new program to kickstart my weightloss!!

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  7. I know exactly what you mean, I took my Godmother and my friend to the Manoir Au Quatre Saisons which is the famous Oxford restaurant run by Raymond Blanc. Michelin starred - of course. The food was exquisite, every morsel mouthwatering, the bill was eyewatering. However, I doubt I will be able to afford to go back there in a hurry. It cost as much as a week's holiday in a five star hotel! But I loved it - did I worry about points? What do you think!?

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  8. That's what I love about WW too ... nothing is off limits. While I really try to stay out of the restaurants on a regular basis (I'm a much better cook most of the time lol), but I would say the one place I let myself go at is my favorite Mexican restaurant in Mexican Village in Detroit. Xochimilco's has been one of my favorite restaurants for years and I live 4 hours away from there so when I get the chance to eat there (once every couple of years) I make the most of it!

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  9. You really can't put a value on art such as you are describing - Points or otherwise. When food is an "experience" as much as it is a meal, it really does a disservice to count - better to enjoy, like you say, a few bites of each offering. Congratulations on such a wonderful opportunity - going on my bucket list today!

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  10. Thanks again Dave! I don't eat out often (ldean323 said it well...I can do a better job than most fast food or big name big box restaurants). When we do choose to dine out we choose a good quality restaurant and I do let down my guard and put away the tracker for the evening. I have been a member and leader for 2 1/2 years and love living the WW lifestyle...and CAN'T WAIT to share the new program with our members!

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  11. My food "bucket list" has one item. Fried clams!! I know Dave passed them up when he went on his summer vacation but since I can only get them when I visit New England every couple of years....I make the most of it.

    On a recent three week vacation I had my fill of fried clams. I watched my other meals so I had points available and I accumulated lots of activity points. I still thought I would have a weight gain when I returned to my WW meeting. To my surprise I lost 3.6 lbs. while I was gone.

    I've now lost 72 lbs. Thanks Weight Watchers!!

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  12. Great post! I write a blog through blogspot as well about my journey over the past year on WW. I've lost 94 pounds so far and I'm only 20 pounds away from goal. In September, I went on a seven-day Alaskan Cruise. At first, I stuck to my plan, then I let go a little bit, then I completely lost control. If I had been more resalistic from the start, I probably would have avoided the train wreck. Luckily, I got back on plan right away when we got back and only gained 2 pounds that week. I do love the flexibilty that WW offers and I'm learning more and more each day about finding that middle ground where I can avoid extremes. If you want to take a look at my blog the link is http://reshapingrachel.blogspot.com.

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  13. Fantastic post. Thank you for sharing your weigh-in, too. I plan to indulge on Christmas Day in my favorite foods that I only have once a year. It's moderation and flexibility that got me back to WW and on track again. Making the best choices when we are in unfamiliar territory and enjoying an occasional splurge. Maybe that's why WW isn't a "diet" but a lifestyle.
    I, too, can't wait for the new program!

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  14. My dad comes to NYC a few times a year, and we always go out for a nice dinner. Those are the times I cut completely loose. The damage is limited by these events occurring only 2-3 times a year, since I categorically cannot afford such places on my own. I also have my own bucket list - French Laundry is right up there, along with Per Se, Le Bernardin, Daniel, Picholine, Jean Georges, Annisa.... The list goes on. Coming up to such dinners (I have one scheduled in 2 weeks...) it's easier for me to turn down lesser meals that would challenge my Points, because I know there's something more amazing just around the corner.

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  15. i just started with weight watchers...i am learning the tools and how to use them to live a healthier lifestyle...i have lost eight pounds so far...i have a long road ahead in reaching my goal...i enjoyed reading about your experience at the french laundry...

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  16. 3 lbs is not a mad price to pay for an experience like you had. Thanks for sharing w/us :-)

    P.S. I need a clean slate and am really looking forward to the new program!

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  17. Wonderful post and I couldn't agree more. I completely LOVE Weight Watchers (so much so that I'm now working as a PT receptionist!!) I have been doing WW since 2005, took off over 65 pounds, made Lifetime in 2007 and most recently got back there after having my son (he's now 2 :) The beauty of WW is that it's designed for livability, flexability and those once in a lifetime indulgences which is why I really enjoyed reading this post. I think too many of us get caught up in the "you've got to be perfect" or "on a diet" aspect when losing or maintaining weight, but it's not about that, it's about living life and enjoying life. I don't think I would have made it to my almost 5 years anniversary with WW (I started November 13th 2005) if it were so restrictive.

    KUDOS to you David for enjoying yourself.

    BTW - I'm loving the new plan!! I can not wait until we get to share it with our members on November 28th :) I'm so very excited!!!!

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  18. Thanks for this post. I started WW less than a month ago and it's working for me so far because I've been really sticking with the plan. I am a little worried about the holiday season. It's going to be a one-day-at-a-time thing, but it's good to know that if I overindulge once it's okay. Just get back right back on the program and stick with it. Other people do it too...

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  19. I just became a lifer and it is amazing what you can do when you just pay attention to what you eat you dont have to give up what you love to eat- Way to go David- My new motto is LIVE IT LOVE IT LOSE IT -it is the weightwatchers way

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  20. I feel like I'm not at the point where I can have these bucket list items. I have only lost 21 lbs, and I know how easy it would be to put it back on...which I am terrified of doing. Everything will work out, and I will have a little fun meal at some point...just not now.

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  21. What a great story; however, you didn't share what you ate.
    Congrats on only a 3 pound gain - way (weigh) to go!

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  22. It is so true that the occasional over-the-top indulgence is not a deal-breaker. The key word is occasional. I've been an at-goal life member for 4 years, but when I was in weight-loss mode, I almost unfailingly went to the Chinese buffet once a month. It is my favorite indulgence, and indulge I did, but since I was pretty much a model Weight Watcher the rest of the time, I continued to lose weight and to enjoy life at the same time. Not quite "bucket list" caliber, but probably a lot easier on the wallet :)

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  23. This is called "living". I'm glad to live.

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  24. Wow, thanks David! This was a wonderful post to read... both funny and informative. The idea of bucket-list foodie blowouts is something I've considered before and it's great to see you weighing in on it. This was my first time visiting your blog and I look forward to doing it again soon!

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  25. It is so nice and refreshing to see that even the CEO can allow himself a break. Good on you and it just goes to prove how great Weight Watchers is.
    I am a leader over in the UK and have been living the new plan since September, although our members have only just been introduced too it.
    We are all loving it over here in the UK and you guys in the US will love it too.

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  26. I love this post! So much so that I am commenting on it, which I rarely do. My husband and I had a great 10 year anniversary dinner at a restaurant that we have not been back to since. That was 3 years ago--the same year I dropped 40 pounds on Weight Watcher's. This post reminds me we should go back really soon---to celebrate the fact that I am still 40 pounds lighter to this day thanks to what I have learned through the WW program. And I am excited to learn more on November 29 when the new program launches in the U.S.

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  27. Dave...you set the bar for the rest of us so that it IS reachable. Thanks for the post and thanks for being a terrific teacher!

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  28. Dave, I join the other WW members in congratulating you for the absolutely wonderful post. I reached Lifetime back in 1984 after losing 70 pounds. I let the pounds creep back up over the years and am now so happily back on the wagon! I will not stray from WW again. I've lost 15 pounds since early October. I know the program works! Thanks for putting in writing my philosophy of Weight Watchers. It's not "all" or "nothing".

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  29. I am a member of WW-Online, and a lifetime member who lost it is the 80's. I could never find success with the points system until lately. I was not use to all the choices. However, I am doing great this time, I have lost 13 lbs. and have a new attitude. I love your post. I am so over the all or nothing at all thinking. I am looking forward to the new system and a new way of life.
    Thank you.

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  30. I am a member of Weight Watchers @ Work and we heard a rumor about the new program and are definitely ready! So hang on David - as I am sure you know - new blood is on the way! This is what makes WW work, not being deprived, just being revived! Every time we slip we have extra points to take care of it (hope we still get to have those...) and groups, blogs and facts to fall back on and get back up. One STRONG suggestion - I hope others get behind me on this - request for a lifetime member to get e-tools free for life! They are the best advertisement you have and to let them have that as a bonus for making it and to reward them for bringing you business with each person they touch, and to keep them in touch with all of us - it is something that is very low cost and high return. PLEASE - step up and honor those who say the most for your program - that it works and they are willing to share that excitement. I was shocked to learn they still had to pay to stay on e-tools. Come on members help me get this approved - what a treat to look forward to for those us us still working on it.

    Yvonne Mann - still a determined Before!!!
    y.mann@tcu.edu

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  31. I could not agree more. On a recent vacation to Ottawa, Canada, my husband and I ate breakfast and lunch via the excellent farmer's market there, mostly fruit and salad, and then splurged on fantastic dinners that featured fresh local food prepared brilliantly. The food was delicious, the ingredients wholesome, fresh and local, and I did not gain a single pound while away. Plus it was fun!

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  32. This post was fun and sensible. I loved that you savored every moment and every bite of that experience with your wife. Memories were gained with those pounds, and that makes life joyful. Eating right for life just has to include these fun bits of reality. I'm going to have to talk my husband into that for a birthday gift or something. Thanks.

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  33. My husband and I dined at the FL for our wedding annivesary in 2007. It was a great experience and completely worth it.

    I do wonder how many points that meal was, not that I even attempted to count it, in fact, it's probably better that we don't know. *grin*

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  34. What a wonderful post! My husband and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary this coming June and hope to be doing so at the French Laundry. I'm looking forward to it even more, after hearing your experience there.

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  35. I enjoyed this post and share your sentiment about truly rare experiences. But I too would like to know what was on the menu, and your estimated points for it. (And I'd have skipped the petits four, don't like them even when they're not hard and dry!)

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  36. LOVED this post for so many reasons. I've been to the French Laundry and you are so right to describe it as a bucket list place. And I love the way you approached it. You don't count points at the French Laundry, you savor every little morsel. (did you get the teeny tiny caviar ice cream cone thingie?)

    But WHAT-- you were in the SF Bay Area and didn't come visit our center?? Wah!

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  37. You're having so much fun David (if only a new program was coming out...), LOL. I feel like the new program is just for me. I have kept off 70 pounds with weight watchers since about 10 years ago but have never, never, never gotten to goal and a healthy BMI. Also, my birthday is November 28th and I will be 33 years old so I hope that this time of alignment with the new release is exactly what I have been waiting for (fingers crossed). For the first time in my life did a 2 day juice fast for detoxification and started a new no sugar, no white flour, no white pasta lifestyle. I had previously never wanted to commit to that no sugar change but a asthma/obesity entry I read in my Natural Remedies book convinced me that it would benefit me so much. I went out and spent a small fortune on lean meats (Shrimp, crab, chicken, no land animals), fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen Amy's organic non-dairy meals (lactose intolerant),nuts and seeds, good olive oil, beautiful Fiji water and lemon perrier and much more. I am sure the new plan will make sense with this since it is based on wholesome whole foods. Can't wait to find out next Sunday. Thanks for sharing your experience I will tell my mother, she is a French food fanatic and I am sure she will find a way to scratch this place off her bucket list :)

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  38. I went to Per Se Chef Keller's spectacular restaurant in NYC and had the same experience. Yes, when we can realize that food is best in small portions, we can enjoy more variety and stay within our goals. Ok, maybe not the same exact type of food served by Chef Keller, but you know what I mean. I am excited for the new plan too. Thanks for sharing your experiences David and all my fellow WW devotees.

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  39. Breakfast was a big part of my family life growing up. While most people would get together for a big dinner with their family, our family would get together for a big breakfast on weekends, all cooking something we liked for everyone to share.

    Because of this, I will rarely blow points on a nice dinner. When I do go out, I tend to get salmon or beef tenderloin with steamed broccoli - not very many points there. I'd rather have eggs with biscuits or an omelet with a croissant over a big dinner. I think it also has something to do with hating going to bed feeling bloated, which sometimes happens after a nice dinner out.

    To me, breakfast can be just as fantastic as any other meal. Besides, if I'm going to use a large portion of my points, I'd rather use them when I have an opportunity to work them off the rest of the day.

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  40. Great post !! Thanks for sharing !!

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  41. Isn't it magnificent? Definitely a bucket list item/experience.

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  42. Great post! I went to the French Laundry for my wedding anniversary a year ago and it is a bucket list place. I was 5 lbs from goal then - ate my way through Napa with the high spot being the French Laundry. I gained 2 lbs the week we were gone, came back and took it off. I'm now at goal. I look forward to getting to a healthy BMI with the new plan as well. Fifty lbs. gone and still going.

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  43. My husband and I enjoy a certain tapas restaurant, but we don't go very often because it's not a very child-friendly place to eat. We went there for my birthday last week and I more or less abandoned the program for that one meal. This was also the week of Thanksgiving, mind you, so I couldn't go completely crazy, but I did enjoy every last bite and wound up tasting that gazpacho all throughout the next day.

    Eating at the tapas place is an experience as well. I love the atmosphere, not to mention the food, and all the dishes are the perfect size for two people to share.

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